Why hate vegans?

By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (My New Porkert #5 Meat Mincer) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (My New Porkert #5 Meat Mincer) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I had a lovely Sunday – I’ll tell you about it some time – but I was a bit irritated at around 0950 on Radio 4.

I don’t think I could be a vegetarian, although I do go meat-free for four days each week, and have done for about seven years now, and I certainly couldn’t be vegan. But I admire, I greatly admire, those who can.  I honestly think that those who eschew meat for a variety of ethical and moral reasons are admirable (whether they are right or wrong-headed in their views).

I guess, at heart, I think I ought to eat even less meat but the taste of a juicy steak, bangers and mash, a sandwich of crispy bacon (perhaps with a cup of tea from a van by the road at Tomatin with Henry), roast lamb, pepperoni pizza etc, let alone fish and chips eaten out of the paper or a bowl of mussels or half a dozen oysters, are all very tempting at various times and various occasions.  Some of them I feel I should swerve on either greenhouse gas grounds, animal welfare grounds, my health grounds or environmental health grounds – and I suppose for four days a week I do, but for three days a week I don’t. And quite honestly, I think I probably should do on the other three days a week too, but I don’t. So that’s why I admire those who do.

"Rally for Nature, London, appealing to MPs to put nature higher up the political agenda. Rally at Church House Conference Centre, London SW1 followed by walk to Parliament. Joint event between RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Mark Avery and the League Against Cruel Sports. Morning Session. Kerry McCarthy, Labour Party MP for Bristol East. 9th December 2014. Photo: Eleanor Bentall"
“Rally for Nature, London, appealing to MPs to put nature higher up the political agenda. Rally at Church House Conference Centre, London SW1 followed by walk to Parliament. Joint event between RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Mark Avery and the League Against Cruel Sports. Morning Session. Kerry McCarthy, Labour Party MP for Bristol East. 9th December 2014. Photo: Eleanor Bentall”

One of those who does is the new shadow Sec of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Kerry McCarthy MP.  Ms McCarthy got some headlines last week for comparing meat-eaters with smokers. There are various versions of what she said (Independent, Telegraph (or was it conjecture?), Express) but I’m as much interested in the reaction as her original words.

The world seems to be up in arms over a vegan being in charge of that small bit of Defra that is to do with agriculture these days. Apparently it won’t go down well with farmers that there are people out there who eat food but avoid the cooked flesh of mammals.  It comes to something, doesn’t it, when a government department is so owned by one of its ‘stakeholders’ that the press rise up in shock over a person on the high moral ground thinking that more people should be edged towards it?

Since when has British farming decided what we must eat as well as getting paid for producing it and paid some more in subsidies just for being farmers? Just for the record, there are about 55,000 farming members of the NFU (Eng & Wales – although after Saturday that should be WALES & eng) compared with 150,000 vegans (in the UK) and 1.2 million vegetarians (UK again).  Yes, not eating meat is a minority way of life, but nowhere near as small a minority as producing meat.  And then there are all those people, like me, who are eating less meat each year.  We’ll all need farmers to grow our vegetable matter if we all give up meat – there’s nothing for the farming industry to worry about and absolutely nothing for them to get on their high horse about either.

Ms McCarthy could have chosen her words better, I suspect, but if she was trying to make a point, then good for her.

It was a discussion of this on Radio 4 on Sunday morning that irritated me because the rather sensible Matthew Parris, whom I like and respect, was ploughing the ‘Tut tut! A vegan in charge of Defra!’ furrow, except he seemed to think that Defra is still the Department or Ministry of Agriculture after all these years!  Well, I think the reason that it irritated me was that in so many respects, it still is!


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31 Replies to “Why hate vegans?”

  1. Have to admire those who for whatever reason are vegans and others who are similar.Personally do not agree but they should not be vilified in any shape or form.

  2. Sorry, slightly off subject but I lost a huge amount of respect for and interest in the sayings of Matthew Parris after his staggeringly stupid "piano wire across country lanes to behead cyclists" item in The Times. In fact I'm getting angry about that crassness just writing this now. He's not one for helping the 'out group' in these tribal arguments.

  3. There are very few humans indeed who have no empathy when it comes to the misfortune and suffering of 'others'. We have been deeply socialised to ignore, paper over and hide from our complicity in the suffering of those 'others' raised, bred, used and killed for food. We cheer when the pig or cow escapes the slaughter truck (Sundance Pig for instance) and wish them well, they become someOne not something in that instant. Truth is they were always someOne - as are the other 78 biliion vertebrates raised and killed for the plate and palate across the world every year. And the trillions if you include oceanic animals caught for food. It is an amazing and terrible thing what humans do to animals. You might "admire" those who eschew meat, eggs, milk and honey, leather and products tested on animals - your admiration means nothing to all those someones who end up on your plate though. Spare a thought for them. Those other three days are in easy reach Mark Avery. w etc [dot] veganeasy [dot] org

    1. I agree entirely, Clara Cow.

      As for human animals being omnivores - the majority are in fact, but it's not compulsory to eat our fellow (sentient) beings - whether intensively farmed, free range/organic or wild and full of lead.
      The meat industry might not like that though.

  4. My problem Mark is that I just cannot find any evidence that Kerry actually said these things. They were first reported in the Western Daily Press, and then the Independent, who quoted a Viva! article? But I clicked on the link very soon after publication, searched high and low on their website, but can't find any such interview, recent or past, with Kerry. But I can't imagine she would have said something like that recently because it doesn't make logical sense and would make more sense as a throw away comment. Meat eating, for example, is not an addiction.
    This is my response based on this: Treating meat-eaters exactly like smokers | galadrielcrystal

    1. When interviewed on R4 Farming Today (last week) Kerry McCarthy dodged the question about her views on meat by saying "I'm not entirely familiar with that quote". It was a quote in quotes in the Viva!life (58, 2015) interview so either the interviewer (Tony Wardle) misquoted - presumably from his contemporaneous notes or a tape - or KM is being economical with her familiarity: “Progress on animal welfare is being made at the EU level and I feel it is best left to those campaigning groups working there but in the end it comes down to not eating meat or dairy. I really believe that meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco with public campaigns to stop people eating it.”

      It wasn't difficult to find - http://www.viva.org.uk/Kerry-McCarthy-vivalife-interview

      What else will she be not entirely familiar with? How many beds in her flat? Electoral fraud and police cautions? Killing people that annoy her before they can breed? Veganism shouldn't disqualify anyone from high office but as for stupidity ... . I feel quite sorry for Corbyn, having to select from within such a small gene pool.

      1. filbert - or she had forgotten it? Or she wasn't sure exactly what she had said? Those are other possibilities to sit alongside your two.

        1. Yes they do but I'm going for the expediently mumbled get-out.

          She also opened her remarks on FT (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06bndg1) with "Whad I want ...". What she doesn't get - along with other proselytisers and activists - is that it's not about them. It's about us. I'm with John A Burton on this

          1. filbert - I'm largely with John Burton too (as almost always) - but that means, to be consistent, that I'm not with the NFU who are trying to tell me that I'm a bit wrong each time I don't eat meat.

  5. I completely agree, Mark. David Cameron apparently doesn't like vested interests (though I think what he meant was people opposing him closing down public services, not the farmers, grouse shooters, bankers etc) so we can only hope he'll be against this sort of attempted bullying by NFU and its cronies. Personally, I take an ecological view of diet - we are omnivores, closest probably to bears, and suited to living on a mixed vegetable, fish and meat diet - which in the early years of the human race would have probably been a sequence of binges on different foods, oysters by the seaside, berries in the autumn - and, no doubt like the bears, salmon when they are running. What is absolutely clear is that we are now eating a 'luxury' diet containing far, far more meat than we need or is good for us - and that has very serious knock on effects, especially the farming industry's spurious 'food security' argument - we are already more than self sufficient in food in the UK, in fact eating what our farmland can provide would make us much healthier - the problem is the bulk of our grain going to animal feed and in the process reducing its human nutritional value by between 4 and 10 times. That is then used as the excuse for further and further intensification of farming, and the biggest single threat to our natural world. So we don't even have to be vegans to reverse the decline - just eat meat sensibly and there'll be more than enough space for rewilding and wilder land around our cities to further enhance our physical and mental wellbeing.

    1. "closest probably to bears"

      If we all did what bears traditionally do in forests there would be a lot more cholera

  6. But yes, I completely agree that to abstain from meat eating is to be thoroughly admired, just as to abstain from eating vast amounts of cake and chocolate (like I do). I do find that the occasional bit of meat helps me feel greatly renewed, eg. when I need more iron or zinc or protein. But I am okay usually with having meat just once a week. Vegetarians do have to watch the meat alternatives don't end up being high fat things like cheese etc, so can end up being a bit vegan at times. Maybe farmers fear this. But many people who are annoyed are young lads, (eg UniLad) who don't farm at all. They genuinely fear perhaps, subconsciously, that her ultimate aim would be to outlaw meat eating, which of course would never happen.

  7. I think I have the same attitude to vegans, as I do to christians: they are fine as long as they don't try and convince me that their particular belief system is 'right'. . I don't care what people believe in whether it's father christmas, the tooth fairy, god, or veganism, as long as they keep irrational beliefs to themselves. Like Mark, I eat a pretty meat free diet. I avoid chicken unless I know exaclty where it came from (all those antibiotics, hormones etc, let alone welfare conditions). etc etc but as has been pointed out, humans are de facto omnivores. and I personally think that animals do have a part in the farming ecosystem. A smaller part than is current, but small quantities of high quality meat are possibly what we should strive for.

  8. I do agree with Mark's general point that it's not Defra's job to be the mouthpiece for the NFU. But I would like, over time (she's new in the job, give her and all the other new shadow cabinet a break for now!) to be more convinced of the depth of her understanding. Just one example, you can't have field scale organics without livestock. So if you want to actively encourage more people/everyone to be vegan, at a policy level you can't also be in favour of organic farming. On the other hand if she pushes the eat less meat, less intensively reared, but with higher environmental standards line then I'm right behind her, that's a message that's logically and ethically consistent and evidence based.

  9. jbc's point is very important at several levels - one of the key factors in loss of farmland birds has been the massive loss of the mixed farming which as he rightly points out is key to organic. But also there are large areas of the world's farmland - including the western side of the UK - best suited to rearing livestock, and there is surely a huge difference between grass reared, outdoor livestock and factory farmed, grain (or, probably even worse, fish meal) fed. Some of our most valued - and also most degraded - habitats are shaped by agricultural grazing.

    1. I agree Roderick.

      In an open letter to George Monbiot, Patrick Holden of the Sustainable Food Trust, although primarily discussing mob-grazing, eloquently highlights the importance of livestock in sustainable farming systems.

      He is right to be concerned about the growing 'anti-ruminant bandwagon' which at times seems to not differentiate sustainable HNV farming systems from intensive factory farming. As you point out there is a great deal of difference.


      1. Commenter at Bishop Hill

        "The only thing Monbiot worries about is that we might forget who he once was.
        Remind me again, who was he ?"

  10. I thought Barbara Ellen addressed this issue quite well in Sunday's Grauniad.


  11. Where do we get our oft quoted "facts" from. Are we hell more like bears. Have a look at a bears skull, nothing like ours. We have to cook our meat to eat it, bears don't. Vegan/vegetarianism makes people feel awkward because they know, deep down, that meat eating is unnecessary and causes suffering. Famine ridden countries in Africa are forced to grow soya, for example, to get cash. This is to feed our animals and not their own starving citizens. I would kill something to eat it to survive, but I don't have to. Even the most humane production of animal products causes suffering, and it is rarely as humane as it is proclaimed to be. Guilt for ones own choices and lifestyle often leads to scapegoating, truth avoidance and ridiculing those who hold a different view.

    1. Paul,

      To be fair to Roderick, his comparison with bears was an ecological one - not physiological. And I understood it in terms of our omnivorous and opportunistic foraging habits.

      I agree that feeding imported soya to livestock is wasteful. It also causes immense environmental damage, one only has to look at the damage being wrought to the Brazillian Cerrado for a prime example. However not all animals are fed on grain and would ceasing livestock production on land unfit for growing crops really help to feed a growing world population?

  12. Because of the loss of mixed farming infrastructure which is now too costly to replace under current pollution control regulations and economic circumstances there has been considerable interest in the concept of stockless organic farming which has been shown to be feasible and why not as the animals are only useful in that context to convert unreactive nitrogen back into reactive nitrogen so that it can be utilised again by crops but whether there is much point in doing this so that surplus organic wheat can be eaten to excess so that people can get fat on bread biscuits cake or pastry is up for discussion but perhaps people will wake up eventually to the fact that unlike essential dietary fatty acids and amino acids there are no essential carbohydrates and for our essentially sedentary contemporary lives there is little or no need to eat any refined carbohydrates at all as we can get sufficient for our needs from that entrained in plant foods that haven't been mucked about with and talking about sufficient for our needs this also means eating a lot less but there's a problem with carbohydrates as they don't send satiety signals to the brians like fats and protein-dense foods so unless intake is strictly limited it is too easy to over-eat which is of course music to the ears of the junk cereals industry even before they add the sugar

  13. The problem that as a livestock farmer, this woman would like to see my business stopped. Not wanting to buy my products is fine, making my products appear bad is not. She is now in a position where she could have an influence, which leaves me feeling like the Labour Party isn't working for me, so I have to go on the defensive. How could I support a Labour Party that wants to stop my business? Some people will agree that livestock farming should be stopped, but If I was to plant the farm up in vegetables it is unlikely I would have nesting lapwing and curlews on the farm or 20 acres of wild flower meadows.

    1. Peter Powell: you are overstating her position. Where has she said that she is planning to outlaw livestock farming? As a meat eater, lover of bacon sandwiches and ex-stockman myself I would oppose any moves to outlaw meat eating (for entirely selfish reasons I would dress up with conservation and ecological justifications).
      Are you one of those rarities amongst farmers, a natural Labour voter? Or is this just another excuse to keep voting for the Party that destroyed the dairy industry (removing the MMB and opening up to a rigged free market where the supermarkets and processors are screwing the industry into the ground on the pretext of global oversupply), and has declared war on our wildlife and our important natural places?

  14. I've read (in New Scientist magazine so I cannot provide a link) that the really environmentally and nutritionally sound thing to do is eat meat in small quantities. Environmentally, there are large "marginal" areas of the UK and the world where meat production is possible but not crop production. What would happen to the Lake District sheep farmers, for instance, if everybody turned vegetarian? Nutritionally, to replace the nutrients in meat with vegetarian alternatives often involves a lot more calories. Mark, maybe you should cut down to eating (carefully sourced) meat on only two days a week, but I don't think you should go further than that!

  15. Mark, perhaps you should add to the number of 55,000 all those who raise their own meat and eggs in their backyard (of which I'm one) as well as those who go out and shoot/catch their own meat. I suspect that must be a much larger number. In my view many of those 55,000 farms should be broken up and a new generation of local community based food producing farmers trained up. These guys won't need subsidies and the corporate welfare junkies, and the civil servants at DEFRA who get their crust serving them can be scrapped. Thats my kind of austerity!

  16. In our current political system we have ministers in charge of NHS who have never been a nurse or doctor, ministers for welfare who have never been unemployed, ministers for education who have never been teachers, (the list is endless) and now a shadow minister for agriculture who is a vegan.
    I'm in no way defending this mad system we live in, I'm just sayin' ...

    1. The chap in charge of benefits may never have been unemployed or disabled....but he certainly hates everyone who is.... should that not be a bigger concern?

  17. This argument about using cereals for meat production is not as Simple as they make it sound as most of the most productive land is because of the manurial value of the dung from these animals also it is almost certain that if we did cut that out here then we would import it and cause destruction in other country's,
    While it is economically viable then it will continue and in general as less well off people
    get better off then meat consumption goes up.


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